Pastor’s plan for church at ‘progressive’ SA school derailed

Residents near Mirabeau Lamar Elementary School were surprised to learn that a church had rented space there for Sunday services — and even more surprised by its pastor’s openness about his desire to use the facility. school to convert their gracious, sleazy and highly gentrified Mahncke Park neighborhood away from its supposed hostility to the gospel.

Use of school facilities by a religious group is permitted by San Antonio Independent School District policy, but no one has been very clear about how the district came to this agreement, or when or why. The district didn’t say much about it – until Friday afternoon, when a letter sent by “Lamar Leadership” to the parents announced that the deal was off.

The larger congregation’s “church planting” project in the Far West, the new church in Garden City was scheduled to open in January. Questions about it spread quickly in the gently sloping 1920s neighborhood north of downtown after residents noticed an online interview with the pastor, Carl Young, who identified himself as a leader of Alamo Ranch Community Church and talked about the benefits of settling into the school. .

On ExpressNews.com: Texas church to pay damages for illegal Hamilton production

Young also explained his ambitions to bring the word of God to a place he feels might not be receptive to it. The residents, for various reasons, were not receptive to his plans, and they were getting organized this week.

“I have no problem with congregations needing a place to meet, to meet in a school,” Francille Radmann, a longtime resident of Mahncke Park, said as she waited at the exterior of the old red-brick Lamar Elementary campus to tell people that a community quickly called the meeting was rescheduled there Thursday night. “But it doesn’t look like he has a congregation that needs a place to meet, it looks like he’s looking for a place to proselytize.”

The meeting was rescheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the school library. Residents said they were told SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino would be on hand to answer questions. The parent letter indicated that the district would use the meeting to outline the dealing with neighborhood uses for such facilities.

Young declined to comment via email Friday, but on a YouTube channel called time and placehe said the school was deliberately chosen for its well-known neighborhood and surrounding demographics.

“We can start with Mahncke Park, we know exactly who God is calling us to, and we start there and we pray that every person in Mahncke Park will know Christ, and see what he does after that outside of that- here,” Young said in the interview.

Teachers and students outside Lamar Elementary School the day after SAISD mandated mask-wearing, Aug. 12, 2021. (Matthew Busch/The New York Times)

MATTHEW BUSCH, STR/NYT

The church is an affiliate of Acts 29, he said, a network known for an evangelistic technique that seeks out new places to keep the spread and growth of planted churches, each creating “disciples” for implement new ones over the next five years.

What really has some in Mahnke Park talking is how Young seems to be categorizing his new territory. In the recording, he was asked to describe the neighborhood and why he expects some hostility to his message.

“People who live in this neighborhood consider it a mini-Austin, so it’s a progressive neighborhood,” Young replied. “You cross every street and you see signs on every yard (with) the colors of the rainbow with each of the five, people call it the secular creed.”

“It can be intimidating to say, ‘Man, I just know from experience that this is going to be more hostile than living at Alamo Ranch,’ can’t it?” said Young. “So changing the mindset to say, ‘They have a sign in the yard, I know exactly what they believe, and so, I know what idols they have. I know what story frames their lives, and we can have a conversation with these people and show them the real gospel story.

SAISD spokeswoman Laura Short released a statement confirming the school district’s agreement with the pastor and his church. The district receives multiple requests for use of its facilities by different organizations, including religious groups, that are permitted by its local policy and state regulations, she wrote.

“SAISD and Garden City Church no longer plan, or have a formal agreement, to use space at Lamar Elementary,” the letter from Lamar executives said hours later.

“After concerns surfaced, Superintendent Aquino and campus leadership engaged in a productive conversation with Pastor Carl Young. He expressed his respect for the Lamar Elementary School community and his regret that he had no intention of causing harm to the school or the district. We are happy to work on a solution that works for everyone involved and does not involve a campus-based site. At the end of the day, we all want the best for the community.

Radmann has lived in the area for more than 45 years, long enough to know many of the people who attended Lamar — everyone does, she said, because the campus has always been a community landmark.

Lamar has become known for his innovation and embraced an early start to school several years ago. It received a B grade and a score of 87 in the latest state assessments.

Short didn’t respond to a question about what the district would charge for Lamar’s facilities, but Young described the financial side of the deal as a big part of the church’s strategy.

“We believe God calls us to be a generous church, financially,” Young said in the recording. “So how can we bless the school – like its teachers, its students, its administrator and everything in it – until in two years they can no longer imagine that we are not there. let’s be more?”

“We want to be able to share the gospel with all of them, but we want them to think, ‘Man, if they leave, it’s going to deteriorate very quickly,'” he continued.

Cindy Reidinger, Mahncke Park resident and parent of a 5th grade student at Lamar, has become a liaison between campus, area residents and families with children at school, some of whom do not live in Mahncke Park. but had to be aware of the arrangement, she said.

She said Young wasn’t open about his intentions when he introduced himself to the community through a Facebook group.

“The way this person very insidiously worked his way into our community happened about a year ago when he innocently (asked) in a Facebook post about demographics and where to find the demographics of this neighborhood “, said Reidinger, recalling some members of the group. happily shared the information.

“Then I think in February of this year he said, ‘Hey, we’re moving into this neighborhood,’ again, using very vague language,” she said. “Never any word on the true intention of using Lamar as a church for his teachings.”

Speaking before the district announced the church would no longer be located in Lamar, Reidinger said she had been in contact with campus officials, but had heard little from district administrators and hoped to get more answers from them at Tuesday’s meeting.

His main questions were how the religious group was vetted before being allowed to use the school and whether the deal was safe for students and the community given the current political climate.

“Especially after Uvalde, should we allow anyone to occupy school space?” she asked. “Even though the students won’t be there at the time, that leaves the school very vulnerable, and honestly, as a parent, that scares me.”

Reidinger and Radmann had a different view of their community than the impression Young described in the online interview. It’s an open, welcoming and kind community whose residents care about each other and take pride in its diverse demographics, they said.

“So to be targeted because someone had a preconceived idea that we needed to learn God’s teachings, when some of us are Christians and believe – he just made assumptions that we have all need saving,” Reidinger said.

[email protected] | @DanyaPH

Jerry B. Hatch